For the first time since ABC stopped broadcasting the New York City Marathon in 1993, the world's biggest marathon -- which is still going on as planned this weekend -- will return to the national stage.
After so many years of just getting local coverage, the marathon goes to ESPN2 as part of a new five-year deal with New York Road Runners, the organization which puts on the race.
I ran the race in 2004, but have always been gripped by the TV coverage of the event, which is so unique.
NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg discussed the opportunity to have nonparticipants still be a part of the event by watching it.
Mary, you and I have talked about [the TV deal] for a long time, and now it is finally coming to fruition. What do you hope people who watch the broadcast Sunday get out of it?
I want people that watch to understand the magic behind the people who run this race and accomplish their huge and audacious goals. Hopefully, that will unlock the potential in those watching as well. One of the ways that is done is to make sure a wide range of stories are told. When we are national on ESPN2 (from 9 to 12:30 pm ET), you will hear the stories from the front of the race to the back.
How did this deal work out with ESPN?
We did get a rights fee for it, and we also do revenue share on a certain amount.
For those who haven't watched a marathon before, why should they watch New York?
The New York Marathon is the ideal property in that, in the last 10 years, we've had some of the deepest fields and the best from several countries. We also don't allow pacers, so no one is going to be setting the pace for the leaders. So really, anything can happen.
We've seen in recent years that names on bibs instead of just numbers has made it easier. What else have you done to make it easier for viewers to follow?
Wittenberg: We've had names on bibs for five or six years. What we've done this year is tell the uniform and shoe companies not to give athletes who are similar in height the same outfits or shoe colors. We also know the picture will be clearer than ever before because it will be in HD for the first time. It will pop like a painting with the runners and all the fall colors.
Over the past couple of years, the marathon directors of the world's biggest races came up with an idea to motivate the world's best runners to run in their races. London, Boston, Berlin, Chicago and New York have teamed together for the World Marathon Majors. It's a point system, and New York is the end. What drama does is provide to the TV viewer?
Geoffrey Mutai has already won the men's division, but the women's race for the $500,000 bonus is wide open. Edna Kiplagat and Sharon Cherop (in second and third place, respectively) have to win the race to win the bonus. If neither of them win, Mary Kitani, who will be at the finish line, will win.